From what I’ve gleaned, people who don’t recognize Jesus Christ as sent by God to provide a way of escape from a bleak spiritual condition don’t like to be the object of proselytizing. In short, they don’t like someone trying to bring them over to the Christian’s way of thinking.
And yet, proselytizing seems to be a mandate from God for His followers. For instance, Jesus stated before He returned to Heaven
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19)
Luke records Jesus’s final comments to His disciples also, and they included either a prophecy or a command:
and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth. (Acts 1:8b)
I think most Bible scholars interpret Acts 1:8 in light of Matt. 28:19.
Of course, Christians also have the example of those first disciples who preached Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, starting right there in Jerusalem, followed very soon by those believers sending out “evangels” throughout the Roman empire and beyond. The point and purpose was to convert or persuade others to the Way.
I have to wonder if Greeks and Romans and Samaritans were any more eager to be converted than are Americans or Britons or Australians today. The New Testament record would seem to indicate they were not. How many places were Paul and his supporters driven from by disbelieving Jews or by idol-worshiping Greeks? And yet, though he was thrown in prison, beaten and left for dead, in threat of his life, he did not stop proselytizing.
Today we’re given . . . if not rules, advice about how we ought, or more correctly, ought not proselytize. First off, we aren’t supposed to—not on street corners or door to door or in fiction or in the workplace. Second, we are to let our lives do the talking. Apparently people are supposed to see Christ in us without us saying a single word.
I’m not sure the Apostle Paul would follow those strictures. I’m not sure Jesus would say, Well done, you ambassadors for my kingdom, to those limiting themselves along those lines.
Today I think some of our problem is that many people think they know what Christianity is all about already, and they don’t want to listen to a sales pitch. I get that. I don’t want to listen to a sales pitch either, which is why the new type of pop-up ads on the Internet irritate me.
Here’s where I think Christians don’t understand how to be witnesses, how to be ambassadors. We think making disciples is delivering a message, period. Sort of like recording a phone message ending with, Press one if you’d like us to mail you more information, press two if you’d like to speak to someone about this message. That’s not what the apostles did. They engaged people personally by answering questions, participating in dialogue, and preaching to crowds who came for healing.
Today the popular term is “incarnational.” The apostles were with the people they wanted to convert. Their preaching wasn’t dump and run. They stayed until they were driven out of town; even then they wrote letters to those who believed, and returned whenever possible.
Most of us don’t want to be driven out of town. Or told at work to stop with the Jesus talk. Or to be pigeon-holed as a novelist who preaches.
Regarding the latter, we’re told often that readers want a story, not a sermon. And that’s true. Nevertheless, there’s no shame in a writer deciding to put truth in his stories in hopes that someone may read it and convert—that when confronted with Truth, they may start to question and examine their beliefs and consider the claims of the Christian worldview.
Such was the experience of the Samaritan woman who was going about her daily chores when she bumped into Jesus. “There’s such a thing as living water? I want some of that.” And the conversation led to her conversion and to that of many from her town.
The bottom line as I see it is this: Christians are to be about kingdom business as ambassadors. We are to represent God before those who do not know Him. That’s our goal and that’s our priority. As we accomplish this, we may make some tents to pay our way, and we may read some inscriptions on altars to unknown gods in order to speak knowledgeably to those we wish to reach.
We may travel to other places and we may stay at home in order to reach across the street. We may host an ice cream party and we may approach someone God brings into our path who “just happens” to have questions about spiritual things.
A friend recently told me a story she heard from some other source—perhaps R. C. Sproul. This individual was driving home from a speaking engagement. At some point he felt convicted that he hadn’t told anyone about Christ. He determined he’d talk to the next person he saw. A short way up the road, he spotted a burly man hitchhiking. Not that one, he thought, and kept driving. But he couldn’t get away from the feeling, that yes, that one was the person he was supposed to talk to.
He made a u-turn and picked up the guy, a former Marine. They talked—about this and that and everything except spiritual matters. Finally as they approached their destination, with maybe a mile to go, he felt so convicted that he must talk to this man about Jesus, he started in. His question was simple, a little straightforward, and he was uncomfortable asking. But the Marine sat up straighter. Turns out, he’d been wanting to know about Jesus but didn’t know who to ask. That night before they parted the Marine came to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, sent to be a sacrifice because of the lawlessness in the hearts of humans, so that we can stop warring against God.